CHICAGO-- Following a dramatic 77-72 overtime win against Penn State on Thursday night, the Gophers didn’t have much time to rest before a Big Ten Tournament showdown with No. 2 Purdue. From the opening tip, Minnesota didn’t show any signs of fatigue against one of the Big Ten’s top teams. They brought energy, physicality and toughness to the court.
Jordan Murphy dominated in the paint and muscled his way into traffic all night. The senior big-man scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 75-73 upset win. Minnesota led by 10 points with 12:22 remaining, but a 12-2 run, including a three-pointer by Ryan Cline, helped the Boilermakers grab two-point advantage.
However, the Gophers had one final answer left in them. In the process, they showed a type of toughness their head coach hadn’t witnessed this season.
“I think they've got a quiet confidence about them, they've got a quiet toughness about them,” Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said after the game. “Like I said, they're not a beat-your-chest type of team. But they've got a lot of fight and a lot of grit.”
In the final minutes, they displayed this type of toughness. Big-man Jordan Murphy powered through a crowd of defenders for a difficult three-point play. The tough finish put Minnesota up by one-point with 1:58 remaining. The Gophers held onto the lead by protecting the rim and contesting every possession during the final two minutes. Minnesota fought through every Purdue screen and came away with rebounds.
Boilermakers guard Carsen Edwards attempted a game-winning step-back jumper at the buzzer, but came up short. Edwards committed six turnovers as Minnesota held the team’s top scorer to 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting. In three matchups against the Gophers, Edwards is just shooting just 25 percent (17-for-68). Gabe Kalscheur’s ability to pressure the ball and fight through screens, helped the Gophers limit Purdue’s star player.
“I would just say just giving [Edwards] really tough shots because it's hard going off those triple screens, so just giving him the hardest task of tough shots is what I'm trying to do,” Kalscheur said after the game.
Minnesota’s team defense fuels everything they do. When they play strong on this end, it helps the offense get moving and downhill. The first five makes of the game came in transition and the trend continued throughout the night.
During a physical battle between two talented teams, the Gophers also fought off every punch in the paint. Minnesota pounded the ball into the post, scoring 40 points in the lane. The post duo of Jordan Murphy and Daniel Oturu controlled Matt Haarms and matched Purdue’s physicality. Oturu had 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting and was getting position on the block. Murphy was driving, absorbing contact at the rim and finishing high effort plays all night. His head coach noticed the way he dominated the game.
“Jordan Murphy was an absolute beast down the stretch,” Pitino said. “He was terrific.”
This was one of the best games Minnesota played all season on both ends of the court. They ran the floor, found outlets quickly off misses and snatched loose balls to get in transition. Freshman Gabe Kalscheur also knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the first half to get the Gophers offense in rhythm. Amir Coffey started to gain early confidence, drilling back-to-back three-pointers in a first half sequence. The Kalscheur-Coffey duo opened the game shooting a combined 7-for-10 and never cooled off. Coffey scored 21 points and Kalscheur added 11 points of his own. The Gophers continued to answer Purdue runs behind Kalscheur’s hot first half shooting, Coffey’s tough attacks and Murphy’s physicality in the post.
Purdue also struggled to get things going behind the arc, which limited their offensive output. The Boilermakers were 6-for-24 from downtown and couldn’t hit open shots. Minnesota also did an excellent job of coming out and guarding the perimeter. The main thing that kept Purdue in the game was offensive rebounding. Purdue had 13 offensive rebounds, including seven in the second half. If the Gophers eliminated those extra possessions, they could have extended their ten-point lead in the second half.
Moving into the semifinals, it won’t get any easier on the glass. Richard Pitino said the Gophers may be without big-man Matz Stockman, who is experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Minnesota will be relying upon freshman Jarvis Omersa if Stockman is unable to play in Saturday afternoon’s game.
No matter what, the Gophers have now added two wins to secure their place in the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota’s coach thinks it could provide the team with a confidence boost as they enter the heart of March Madness.
“[It] may have been our best game of the year, Pitino said. “I told them in the locker room. I said, ‘you guys might be the least talked about team in the country.’ And that's fine with our guys. We relish that.’”
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball